“Console yourselves, comfort yourselves My people,” says your G-d! Isaiah 40:1; Haftarah for Shabbat after Tisha B’Av
I was commenting at our break-fast in Shul, “boy, wrapped up another Tisha B’Av. Another one in the books.” Keep on hoping and wishing we don’t have to do this anymore. But it seems we’re doomed to repeat it evermore. To be sure we celebrate and commemorate various historical epochs. In this sense Tisha B’Av is no different. My problem here stems from something else entirely.
From all holidays and remembrances Tisha B’Av is more about the future than anything else! It is this future so intertwined with our past that seems mirage-like and beyond our reach. For 2000 years! There’s nothing to compare it with.
The Egyptian exile, before we became a nation, prior to the Covenant and Revelation at Mount Sinai, was only 210 years. To be sure it was difficult and painful and even that was only for half the time we were in Egypt. And then we were out.
The Babylonian/Persian Exile lasted only 70 years. Those years were mostly spent in comparative peace and security under Babylonian and Persian rulers. So much so that Ezra and Nehemiah bemoaned the fact that MOST Jews wouldn’t leave their homes to go up to Israel and rebuild the Second Temple. The Torah and Jewish culture in Babylonia was on a higher level then it was in Israel and definitely so when it came to material wealth. It is because of this that the Jews never really gained complete autonomy from their gentile overlords, whether it was Greece, Egypt, Syria and ultimately Rome, even after the Second Temple was built.
As such it begs the question why this exile remains so protracted as to dwarf any of the others before it. This mystery has haunted us now for two millennia. It has dumped tragedy and darkness of such proportions, quantitatively and qualitatively, as to question how will we ever crawl out the diaspora! Taking things as they are and looking at it with cold arithmetic it seems improbable if not impossible.
So it makes one even more depressed to have go through the paces and technical observances of this Fast Day while reminding others and yourself that this is not the end to the tale. This is only the beginning to the –glorious– end. Tisha B’Av is about the future and our glorious redemption!
Is it not?! Isn’t that what our Prophets and Sages keep telling us?
“…He proclaimed a ‘set-time’ (mo’ed) against me…” (Lamentations 1:15). “Since the 9th of Av is referred to as “mo’ed”, which means a “set time” [for G-d’s Divine retribution], but also means “festival”, our Sages maintained; that just as we do not recite ‘confessionals’ on Festivals so too we omit them on Tisha B’Av” (Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chayim 552).
“On the day the Temple was being destroyed the savior of the Jewish people was [already] born [and on the ready to redeem us from exile]. What is his name? Menachem (Comforter)!!!” (Midrash Eicha Rabba).
And, yet, this just continues on and on, ad-infinitum, with no glimmer of hope in sight.
Or is there? And I mean it in more than just a flippant way. More than just, ‘you must believe!” Can you live it? Can you really really mean it?!
There’s no better example of that and more poignant illustration and answer then the one the Talmud tells us in Makot 24b at the end:
Once again, they (Rabban Gamliel, R’ Elazar b Azaria, R’ Yehoshua and R’ Akiva) were coming up to Jerusalem together and just as they came to the Temple Mount they saw a fox emerge from the [area of the] Holy of Holies. Immediately they (the first three) broke out in tears but R’ Akiva (their disciple) broke out in laughter! “Why do you laugh?!” they inquired. He countered, “Why do you weep?!” Said they to him: “A place of which it is said, ‘the commoner who approaches near shall die’ (Numbers 1:51) and is now a den for foxes should we not weep?!” Said he to them, “Therefore I am merry! For it is written, ‘And I will take to Me faithful witnesses to testify, Uriah the Priest and Zecharia the son of Yevarechyahu’ (Isaiah 8:2). Now, what connection does Uriah, the Priest have with Zecharia? Uriah lived during the First Temple Era while Zecharia lived [and prophesied] during the Second Temple?!” Rather [said R’ Akiva], “Scripture links the later prophecy of Zecharia with the earlier prophecy in the days of Uriah. In the earlier days, of Uriah, it is written, ‘Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field…'(Mica 3:12). In Zecharia it is written, ‘Thus says the L-rd of Hosts, There shall yet be old men and women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem…'(8:4). So long as Uriah’s dire prophecy had not been fulfilled I worried whether Zecharia’s prophecy would be fulfilled. Now, however, that Uriah’s prophecy has been fulfilled (before our very eyes) I can be certain that Zecharia’s prophecy will certainly be fulfilled as well!!!” Said they to him, “Akiva you have comforted us! Akiva you have comforted us!!”
This short anecdote packs a powerful message to us all. Even today!
There was no greater time of decimation and adversity then when R’ Akiva lived. It was right after the destruction of the Temple. The destruction of Betar and the reign of Bar-Kochba. In those two incidents’ alone the streets and cities of Israel ran red with blood. Torah scholars, including R’ Akiva himself, the greatest of them all, were being hunted by the Romans, persecuted and put to death. R’ Akiva lost 24, 000 students in plague and pestilence in addition to the Roman tyranny and spiritual desolation heaped upon the Jews by successive Roman emperors. This was a time when we almost lost it all if not for R’ Akiva and his 5 last disciples who laid the foundation at this very dangerous time for all future generations.
R’ Akiva himself was martyred horribly for the promulgation of Torah which he maintained was the only life for a Jew, even in the most horrible of circumstances.
And, yet, he found time to laugh!!! He saw the very salvation of Jews even at their lowest ebb and so close to ruination. The very destruction of the Temple and the desecration of the Temple Mount clarified for him, in a tangible way, the very redemption and ultimate glory of our people.
His own teachers, who themselves could not discern this lesson, and were shown by their disciple the joy in all the sadness, exclaimed, “Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva you have comforted us (neechamtanu neechamtanu)!” When observing it at its essence one sees the joy in the mourning.
So much so they repeated themselves. Just as Isaiah does in our Haftara. “Comfort yourselves, comfort yourselves… (Nachamu Nachamu…)” When G-d or our prophets repeat themselves it is to connote the realness and nearness of the message.
The message? It is very real! Even in the most dire of circumstances.
There is an adage taught to us by our Sages: “Even if a sharp sword lays at your neck (there seems to be no way out) do not refrain from praying for mercy (a miracle)” (Berachot 10a).
This is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe pleaded and exhorted us to realize. If we truly want it. If we really envisage and expect it. If we mean what we pray and are so confident it will happen.
It’s one thing to believe and hope for it. It’s far greater to live and actualize it.
Over time, however, and actually because of it the further distanced from the heights of our splendor, when one assumes hope and expectancy dims, it must and can take hold more tangibly than ever before.
This is what the Sages of the Talmud are telling us. They may have experienced destruction in all its starkness and could see no tangible way out. R’ Akiva reminded them, this is not about what will happen in the future at some distant time. We must see it now! Really! No less so than the destruction that was foretold and experienced will be the rebuilding and restoration, thus the joy and exuberance. It’s the most powerful light because it emerges from the darkness.
If we can see the redemption in our exile we can have comfort immediately even after and juxtaposed to tragedy and mourning. One actually leads to the other. G-d’s Heart reflects ours and He comes through in a flash.
We will be freed!